Page last updated at 23:02 GMT, Thursday, 16 October 2008 00:02 UK

Boys trail girls in class by five

Girl in exam
Girls outperform boys all the way through school and university

Girls already have a well-established educational lead over boys by the time they start school, a study claims.

The study of 15,000 UK children suggests girls are two months ahead of boys in tests of verbal, non-verbal and visual skills by the age of five.

Girls outperform boys at all levels of education in the UK - from the age of seven to higher education.

The study from the Institute of Education in London suggests that trend begins before they even reach school.

The researchers also found that girls were doing better than boys by the age of three.

There was roughly the same number of boys as girls in the top 10% of the ability range
Dr Kirstine Hansen

It also found girls had fewer behaviour problems than boys, and those children with better behavioural development tended to have a greater ability to learn.

They were assessed in their own homes by specially trained interviewers.

The researchers took three assessments involving vocabulary, picture similarities and pattern construction, measuring children's visual, spatial and verbal skills.

Research director Dr Kirstine Hansen said the findings did not mean that all girls out-performed all boys.

"There was roughly the same number of boys as girls in the top 10% of the ability range.

"However, there are fewer girls in the lower-scoring groups.

"Our age three assessments of the children showed the same general trend, so the gender gap in learning is established early in life."

Family life

The researchers found children living in different family circumstances also tended to show different levels of development.

Children with two working parents tended to do better than others. They were four months ahead on vocabulary and two months ahead on visual tests.

And children of those with no qualifications were considerably behind average on each of the three measures.

On average, they were four months behind in picture tests, five months behind on pattern construction and more than a year behind in vocabulary.

Those in step-families were five months behind the average in picture similarity tests, while those with lone parents were two months behind.

This report on child cognition and behaviour was published as part of a much wider study by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, called the Millennium Cohort Study, which is tracking the development of youngsters born in the first two years of this century.

Other findings included:

• the claim that mothers in Northern Ireland are more likely to read to their children every day than other UK mothers

• less than two thirds of UK children are living with their married natural parents at age five

• children who eat breakfast daily are less likely to become obese




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